The Virtue and Vice of Technology, part 2
In my previous post on technology, I focused on the virtue of it. At that time, I discussed the five ways that I use technology to help my life.
- Information consumption
- Content production
- Personal interaction
- Work management
Technology can be used for all sorts of good for my life and work. It allows me to communicate more personally with my family when I’m away. I am able to control, consume, and organize content and data rather than being enslaved to it. For that, technology is a virtue.
But, like any tool, technology must be implemented correctly or it will pose a danger to the user. One of the more famous, funnier, and litigious examples of this is the woman who, while walking through a shopping mall, fell into a water fountain. She was texting rather than looking where she was going.
At the end of the day, technological implements are nothing more than tools. So, we should be wise to manipulate them in such a fashion. Let me describe how they can also become a vice.
- Access to unhelpful information
- Loss of creativity
- Impersonal interactions
- Equating information with activity
- Sedentary life
The vice of technology begins with its distracting nature. We are surrounded by a matrix of technology that over-promises and under-delivers. Granted, anything can become a distraction to our responsibilities and real life, but technology seems to distraction on steroids. The news has offered extreme examples of teens who played a video game for three days straight or a mother who spent all of her money on Farmville and neglected to buy groceries for the family. However, these examples reveal a deeper emotional instability that would have manifested one way or another no matter what distraction was available.
The distraction for most of us comes in the form of prioritization. It arrives more in the form of checking your email while someone is speaking to you. Technology puts all of your life in front of you at every moment. Being tethered to a smart phone, laptop, and iPad allows every person, every task, and every bit of information to vie for your attention in every moment of life.
Access to unhelpful information
I do not need to know everything. As I mentioned in part one, I am an information junkie. My daily schedule includes a heavy dose of information intake. Knowing more about content delivery and the publishing world helps in my work. Understanding theology and church trends enables me to better understand ministry. Learning about the world as a whole enables me to be a more informed husband and father. But are there things I simply can go without knowing?
My answer is yes. There are dark portions of humanity that gives no benefit in knowing about. Certainly I need to understand that humanity is sinful and broken but I do not need the exhaustive details of all the brokenness included in addiction, pornography, psychoses, and the like.
Technology as a vice overwhelms the rest of my life. It is intrusive because it offers so much. It is overwhelming because I allow too much of it in. It is an overload of digital activity, opportunity, and information. Essentially, it gives us so many choices that paralysis is the most likely outcome.
As I said in my previous post, technology is a virtue for me because I love the ease at which I can consume information. But, it can quickly become a vice when allowing my life to be flooded by extraneous information. Becoming overloaded on information often causes me to become ineffective at work.
Loss of creativity
I do not consider myself an overly creative person so I need all the help I can get. But, sometimes help turns into a crutch. For me, technology is my creative crutch. Rather than write beautiful prose, I can just search for it. Rather than creating a word picture, Google helps me find someone else who has already done it. Rather than the personal investment of strategizing, I can just lean on other people’s work. Technology becomes a vice when I find surrogate creativity for my own.
I love and loathe email, text messages, Facebook posts, and Twitter DMs. I love them for their efficient use of my time. I loathe them for how it tempts me to substitute avatars for personal conversations. Pixels are not the same as proximity. On too many days, I allow a text message suffice as an interaction with someone that I care deeply about. But it does not suffice. Talk personally. Visit them face-to-face. Technology should be a supplement not a substitution in our relationships.
Equating information with activity
Knowing more is not the same as doing more. For all of us, we have to know when the point in time arrives that you know enough to act upon it. With unfettered access to the databases of the world, the temptation is to search endlessly for one more fact before making a decision. The vice of technology is the paralysis that comes from endless analysis.
The best description that exists for this idea is the movie Wall-E. It gives the portrait of a future in which humanity has become fat, lazy, and physically dependent upon technological help for everything. Though it is a caricature, it is also a possibility. We should guard against spending so much time looking at Facebook albums of other people hiking in the woods that we don’t even go for a walk around the block. My DVR and Wii can provide entertainment but can also help me gain a lot of weight. Make sure you’ve not substituted an image of the world outside for actually seeing the world outside.
How do you see technology and its implements being misused and undermining a better life?
How are you guarding your use of technology to ensure that it is a virtue and not a vice?